Sunday, December 27, 2020

A Voyage to Arcturus

A Voyage to ArcturusA Voyage to Arcturus by David Lindsay
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A spiritual quest, more than a science fiction novel - much, much more. The protagonist, Maskull (and, ultimately, Nightspore) take the hero's journey not through the underworld, but across the planet Tormance as it orbits the twin stars of Arcturus. He encounters several stock characters in his journey, each of which introduces him to a new perspective or philosophy, sometimes with all forthrightness, sometimes in spite of themselves and their masks. Through it all, Maskull seems to be coming to some sort of conclusion, but the clouds of the different philosophies make it difficult to see where he is headed (in fact, he doesn't know where he is headed, though he gains more confidence in his abilities as he travels further and further north). In the end . . . well, about the end.

Three years ago, I watched my father die. He had recently had surgery for a tumor in his sinuses. The cancer had wrapped around his optic nerve and his eye had to be removed. It was also revealed in the surgery that part of his frontal lobe was occluded and would need to be removed. At this same time, my mother had been hospitalized when her kidney's failed. To keep a four-month long saga of trips in and out of various hospitals, of hopes gleaned, then dashed to the ground, my mother passed away in February of 2018 and my father died in May of the same year. I was there for both instances because I had been the one to take each of them off of life support. Mom passed away after about 10 minutes of being off of life support - truth be told, she was practically dead when we made the decision to take her off. Dad's cancer had invaded his brain and it was riddled with tumors. He was inoperable and wasn't thinking straight because part of his brain had been removed during the initial operation. He was not himself. Dad had always been a highly intelligent individual and I'm fairly certain (he couldn't talk because of the tracheostomy that had to be given to him earlier) that he was in a living hell with part of his thinking machinery, so to speak, removed. It was inevitable that the cancer was going to kill him. There was no stopping it. So, after talking with my wife and a few very close friends and my kids, and after a lot of soul-searching and prayer, we decided to take him off life support.

He lived for two full weeks. I was with him every day, often spending the night in his room with him.

Losing my Mom and Dad was one of the most painful events of my entire life. It still hurts like hell just thinking about it now. Was it right to take them off of life support? I think so. But having to make that decision cut a deep scar in my heart. It will get better, it has gotten better, but it will never fully heal. I've learned to embrace the pain.

As I read A Voyage to Arcturus, I thought of my father, lying in the hospital bed conscious, but deteriorating, over the course of two weeks. By all rights, he shouldn't have lived that long. Dehydration should have killed him in a few days. But my Dad is one stubborn man, and full of fight. I often wonder what he was thinking, what he was even capable of thinking at that time. I know he knew I was there and I know he knew that I loved him and that he loved me. Beyond that, I don't know what was in his head. I suspect that in his painkiller-addled moments of delirium (which were far more frequent than his cogent moments) he was taking a sort of journey himself, maybe something similar to Maskull's journey. In the end, I think they might have come to the same conclusions, which you are free to learn for yourself.

Now, this book, while it tugged at my emotions, is anything but emotional. It is, in a word, flat. The characters are more "everyman" than anything. Their antagonists (and guides) represent ideas, not real people. I can see how this would be tedious to a lot of readers, and the reviews I've read bear this out. The writing is also clumsy and, at times, very stilted.

But for me, rather than criticize the surface appearances of the novel (it is, from a writerly point of view, ugly), I read with my heart, as well as my brain, and was put into a quite contemplative frame of mind. I reflected on the Tarot, of all things. If the Three of Swords could be expanded into a novel, then this might be it. Do I understand all the battling philosophies? No. Do I understand all the symbolism? No. But I understand the feeling that Lindsay was, especially at the end, trying to get across.

I know Krang, and I know him well. You'll know what I mean when you reach the conclusion . . .

. . . The Conclusion . . .

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